The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate your body's energy use, along with many other vital functions.
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland makes and stores hormones that help regulate the body's metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate.
When your thyroid hormone production drops (hypothyroidism), virtually all body processes slow down and change. While there is no definitive way to prevent hypothyroidism, you can make informed choices and modifications to reduce your risk or slow progression.
Practice proper iodine nutrition
Iodine, a trace element, is required for the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones effectively. Iodine supports healthy thyroid function through ingestion. When the pituitary secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), it increases the thyroid's uptake of iodine. Iodine stimulates the production and release of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Accessing iodine-rich foods isn't difficult in the United States, where iodized salt and iodine-rich foods are widely available. However, research shows that getting too much iodine may be just as problematic as not getting enough iodine. Excess iodine intake may cause thyroid autoimmunity in people with either euthyroid or subclinical hypothyroidism.
What is the iodine controversy?
We know that too little iodine can increase your risk for iodine deficiency, which can cause swelling in the neck (goiter), pregnancy-related issues, learning difficulties, or thyroid dysfunction. However, high concentrations of iodine can inhibit thyroid hormone production and secretion.
Referred to as the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, when the enzyme thyroid peroxidase (TPO) converts iodide ions into active iodine used to make thyroid hormones, it also makes hydrogen peroxide in the process. An excess of hydrogen peroxide can damage thyroid cells due because it causes oxidative stress. Regrettably, too much oxidative stress can cause cell death to occur more quickly, meaning that there are fewer thyroid cells available to make thyroid hormone.
Because of the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, getting the right amount of iodine is essential, as too much or too little can harm your thyroid. To ensure the proper synthesis of thyroxine and healthy growth and development, ingesting somewhere between 100-300 mcg daily is generally optimal for most people.
Iodine is naturally found in some foods, like eggs and seaweed. Some dairy products will also have iodine, but that depends on if the cows supplying the dairy were given iodine supplementation and if processing affects the iodine content. Iodine is also found in many multivitamins. Supplements can be a useful way to ensure you are getting the right amount of nutrients. However, you need to be diligent with tracking your iodine intake by adding up iodine content from both your food and supplement. For example, if you are taking a multivitamin and eating yogurt every day that has iodine in it.
Avoid toxic disruptors
Chemical substances can disrupt the normal function of the thyroid. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggests that endocrine disruptors, often found in everyday products, may result in reduced fertility and increased progression of some diseases, including obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, and some cancers.
Disruptors that inhibit iodine uptake:
- Perchlorate is sometimes found in drinking water
- Thiocyanates are found in cigarette smoke and some vegetables
- Nitrates are commonly found in fertilizers and explosives
Disruptors with direct impact on thyroid hormone receptor:
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) are mostly found in old electrical equipment
- Bisphenol-A (BPA) is primarily found in hard plastics
- Triclosan is found in many consumer wash products like toothpaste, soaps, and detergents
Disruptors that displace T4 from transthyretin protein:
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) is used in many products as a flame retardant, including building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, polyurethane foams, and textiles
Disruptors that inhibit TPO activity:
- Isoflavones are found in the bean family, most notably soybeans
Disruptors that decrease the lifespan of thyroxine (T4):
- Organochlorine pesticides used in agriculture and mosquito control
- Dioxins and furans derived primarily from the fatty tissues of animals
Having knowledge of which products contain these chemicals can help you make informed, healthy lifestyle changes and choices.
Balance your immune system
Your immune system protects you against disease. It is usually on alert to foreign substances - particularly, antigens. An antigen is a toxin or other foreign material that creates an immune response in the body, especially the production of antibodies.
A properly functioning immune system identifies and destroys substances that contain problematic antigens. It can mobilize immune cells as needed to fight infection. However, an imbalance in this complex system may result in an autoimmune condition: an abnormal immune response to a usually healthy body part.
How you can take regular care of your immune system:
- Increase your water intake, eat nutrient-dense foods (mostly vegetables), avoid packaged foods, and limit added sugars to give your body steady energy.
- Move your body daily to increase oxygen, which helps effectively fight antigens.
- Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to optimize how your body processes food, regulates blood sugar, remembers information, controls inflammation, and carries out other functions.
- Practice relaxation techniques to lower the stress hormone corticosteroid, which can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system.
- Consider using antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene, vitamin E, and selenium.
- Regularly see a trusted doctor, with whom you can discuss ongoing health concerns, go over lab results, and design a long-term health plan.
A note from Paloma Health
Taking preventative measures to support your thyroid health may spare you future health problems. While there is no guarantee that you can prevent thyroid disease, preventative measures can make a big difference in your quality of wellbeing. If you need additional support, meet with a Paloma nutritionist to determine nutritional status for optimal thyroid health.